Results tagged Thai from David Lebovitz

Thai Stir-Fried Chicken with Chile Jam

Thai Stir-Fried Chicken with Chile Jam recipe

I was recently interviewed about cookbooks that I like and when I thought about the ones I’ve been most intrigued with, a few stood out. They were single-subject books that explore a single topic, which I find useful when looking for a straightforward recipe to try out. But the more complex, thorough books help me understand cuisines that I’m not all familiar with. For example, I have a massive, magnificent 688-page book on Thai cuisine that is the ne plus ultra of Thai cookbooks. But every time I’ve cracked it open, I feel like if I don’t get all twenty-seven ingredients called for in the recipe, it’s not going to work. Or that I’m doing something wrong and I’ll be cursed by a thousand Thai grandmothers (or the internet) for the rest of my life.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a great book and I love sitting in am armchair, reading about food traditions and so forth. But in reality, and in the kitchen, it’s a different story. And often we have to make compromises or make do with what we can, if we want to make a dish.

Thai Chiles

It can quickly become tiresome having the authenticity police breathing down your neck, with people picking out anything that you’re doing wrong when making dinner. (As I wrote in my recent book, cultures and traditions change over time. Italians didn’t always have tomatoes, chiles weren’t always part of Thai cooking, and hamburger meat didn’t originally come from America.)

So it’s a true pleasure to have a reassuring voice like Leela Punyaratabandhu, in her terrific book, Simple Thai Food, telling you that – you know what? – you don’t need to make yourself crazy to cook Thai food. We can all breath a sigh of relief. And, if necessary, you can make a few adjustments and still retain the original flavors of the dish.

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Thai Green Curry

Thai green curry

After my trip to Sydney, I decided I needed to learn some of the basics of making Thai food, if I’m going to get anything as spicy as I enjoyed (and as much as I like) around here. Like all cuisines, it starts with gathering the proper ingredients. Here in Paris, we have Tang Frères, a large Asian supermarket which is pretty well-stocked. (Although being Paris, it seems like it’s required that they’re out of the one essential item that I’m looking for.)

I hunted down most of the ingredients on my list, but paused at the curry pastes on the shelf. Was that cheating? Did Thai cooks use curry paste, or were they shunned and it was considered infinitely better to make your own from scratch? I was in a dilemma since I wanted to hit the flavors I was looking for, but could not find lime leaves, which seems like an essential ingredient from my reading. So I put the message out on Twitter from the supermarket aisle, and right away, all the responses said the curry pastes are fine – and sometimes preferable, if you can’t find the right ingredients.

shrimp paste Thai eggplant

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Sydney Dining

Sydney Opera House

If I ever get back to Sydney, I may never leave. And not just because it takes the better part of a full day to get there, or to recover from the jet-lag, which Australians know about all-too-well…since for them to go anywhere, it’s a considerable journey as well. But what I found interesting was whenever I told any locals how great their city was, they’d say, “Yeah, it’s pretty great.” Most of the time when you talk to people who live somewhere, they’ll invariably have something to grouse about.

I liked walking around the small, but urban center of the city, with its tall buildings, shopping centers, and compact Chinatown. And I enjoyed putting on my walking shoes (and socks) wandering the various neighborhoods, which are eminently walkable and you can chance upon little cafés brewing up excellent coffee, sleek design shops, and ethnic restaurants with food that will blow your support hose off.

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Cold Noodles with Peanut Sauce

cooking noodles

Contrary to popular belief, people who work in restaurants preparing food rarely have time to eat. And even though the line cooks could sit down after they were done feeding everyone their first and main courses, that was the the most hectic time for us pastry folks since all the dessert orders would come tumbling in.

Bakers are known for eating things like butter sandwiches just because bread and butter are readily available and you don’t need to sit down to eat it or ask the line cooks if they had time to made you something more nutritious. When I left the restaurant business, I made one promise to myself: I would never again eat standing up or just mindlessly jam food in my craw. So when people ask why so many pastry chefs and professional bakers aren’t enormous—well, that’s why.

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